Kidney Research Since 1999

Vivian Okirie, MD
Vivian Okirie, MD

2018 Doctor of Medicine (M.D. cum laude) procured at Morhouse School of Medicine - Currently a resident doctor at UTHealth in Houston

Sep 28, 2018 5 min read

So What Causes Kidney Stones Anyway?

Before We Get to That, Let’s Review the Background Information

Our kidneys are essential organs that filter waste from our blood and remove it from our body in the form of urine.  Sometimes, the minerals being removed can clump together and make new compounds. These compounds if they accumulate, can create kidney stones. Most individuals do not realize they have kidney stones until it is time to pass from your ureter (connects the kidney to the bladder) to your bladder. Ouch! The pain occurs when your ureter and bladder contract on the stone. Some people are lucky in that the stones are so small that they pass through with no disruptions. Kidney stone pain is intermittent and can vary in intensity. Rarely, kidney stones can cause significant damage resulting in complications that can require surgery in order to preserve the kidney.

Signs and Symptoms

As a result of the accumulation of various filtered minerals from your kidneys, kidney stones predominantly consist of calcium oxalate. There are other types of stones that form such as uric acid, cysteine, and struvite kidney stones. The other stones have different chemical components, and the calcium oxalate, uric acid, and cysteine kidney stones tend to present in similar manners. The struvite kidney stone, on the other hand, tends to grow in size within the kidney, until it makes the kidney nonfunctional. This stone usually requires surgical intervention.

It has been estimated that one in 20 people will experience kidney stones during their lifetime. The typical age range is between 30 and 50, with men being more likely to be affected than women. But do not rule out the possibility of a kidney stone simply because someone does not fit the typical parameters. As the stone travels into the ureter, you may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain located in the lower back, groin, or abdomen (below the ribs)
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Frequent and painful urination
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Pain that fluctuates in intensity
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Fever and chills (possibly indicative of an infection)
  • Only able to urinate small amounts at a time

If you find yourselves experiencing these symptoms, please go visit your primary care provider as soon as possible. What you might consider a mild symptom could be a clue to a more serious medical condition such as appendicitis, ectopic pregnancy, diverticulitis, ruptured ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, hernias, etc. Sexually transmitted infections (formerly known as STDs) can sometimes present as painful urination (with or without blood). So it is strongly suggested that you see your primary care provider immediately in order to determine the most appropriate treatment for your condition.

It is rare that kidney stones are diagnosed prior to experiencing any pain, without the use of imaging. It is not unheard of to have an individual present at the emergency room with lower back pain that comes and goes in wave patterns, because that is how severe the pain is. Usually, imaging such as x-rays, ultrasounds, and sometimes even CT-scans are conducted to identify the diagnosis of nephrolithiasis (kidney stones).

What Causes Kidney Stones?

So, what is it that actually causes the buildup of calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and other minerals that cause kidney stones? When the kidney is oversaturated with minerals that it cannot effectively dilute them, kidney stones are more likely to develop. Just because the minerals are in excess does not mean a stone must form. One of the most correctable reasons for stone formation is inadequate hydration. In order words, drink your water! A list of other possible risk factors is provided below.

  • Dehydration
  • Medications (antivirals, thiazides)
  • Gout
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (e.g., Crohn’s Disease)
  • Use of Vitamin D and Calcium Supplements
  • Family History
  • Other Medical Conditions (gastric bypass surgery, bariatric surgery, malabsorption issues)
  • Urinary Tract Infections (especially with Proteus or Klebsiella infection)

Drink Water

If you are drinking less than 8 glasses of water a day, you are more likely to become dehydrated and increase your risk of developing kidney stones. Will limited water in your system, your kidneys must work harder to dilute the buildup of minerals after filtering your blood. In addition to the list above, some medical conditions such as hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, medullary sponge kidney, and Dent’s disease have also known to be associated with an increase in the occurrence of kidney stones.  Having a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, a high protein/sodium diet, and high blood pressure also increase the risk of forming stones.

Treatment Options

So what can you if the stone has already started causing your anguish? It comes as no surprise that you are likely wondering what your treatment options are.  Some small kidney stones will pass on their own and require no further intervention. Larger ones will likely require your physician to prescribe medications to alleviate the pain and help in pushing the stone out. Drugs known as alpha-blockers (commonly used for benign prostatic hyperplasia) induce relaxation of the ureter, allowing the stone to pass easier. Those of you prone to kidney stone will likely require medications to prevent stone formation (if other adjustments to your medication list, diet, and lifestyle have not alleviated the issue). It is also best to see if changes in your lifestyle can stop stones from forming. It has become clear that an effective treatment option is to dissolve the kidney stones with heavy doses of lab grade Chanca Piedra. For centuries, South American has utilized its properties to aid in those suffering from repeat kidney stones.

For severe cases, surgery is performed to remove the stone and (hopefully) salvage the kidney. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), the most common surgical technique, is used to remove stones that do not pass on their own. This method of treatment uses high-energy shock waves that break the kidney stone into smaller pieces that are more able to move through the urinary tract.

Ureteroscopy is a technique used when the kidney stone has made its way out of the kidney but is having difficulty moving from the lower ureter into the bladder. With this method, a thin tube is inserted into the ureter (from the urethra to the bladder to the ureter) to break up the stone for better removal by the body. No incisions are made with this procedure.

Prevention of Kidney Stones

After suffering from a kidney stone, you are definitely asking how to prevent a reoccurrence. There are various suggestions to help decrease the likelihood of stone development in the future.

  • Stay hydrated and drink more water.
  • Steer clear of saunas, hot tubs, and heavy exercises that cause you to sweat excessively.
  • When eating calcium and oxalates, eat them together during a meal. This is so they combine in the stomach and can be processed by the body before hitting the kidney. When they combine in the kidneys, the risk of stone increases.
  • Cut back on sodium.
  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Daily consumption of lab grade chanca piedra. 

By eating a well-balanced diet and staying properly hydrated, you are more likely to prevent the occurrence of kidney stones and resultant complications. Not only that, a well-balanced diet and drinking water are healthy practices, in general, leading to your well-being.